Product Thinking: The Core Principles of Product Discovery



This article is an excerpt from Unlocking Opportunities Through Continuous Product Discovery, which you can download here. 

The core principles of product discovery are designed to guide the thinking and actions of your team. They create a unified vocabulary that helps ensure that everyone is working together and moving in the same direction.

Understand the core problem and structure around it

“What are we actually trying to achieve?”, is an extremely important question. Product discovery teams shouldn’t simply investigate ideas for the sake of ideas, they should be seeking to solve a problem that real people are facing. All early conversations should focus on understanding the core problem that the team will be looking to solve and then all structure—project plan, resource allocation, etc.— should be designed with that problem in mind.

Have the right people at the table

All product discovery teams should be cross-disciplinary, with product strategists, product designers, design researchers, and software engineers present from day one. However, who is in the room should be decided by what is required to push the project forward. This means that projects should have a mix of core, always-present team members and additive team members who are brought in when they will be most valuable—e.g. senior stakeholders in key presentations or ad-hoc, out-the-box thinkers from other departments in ideation sessions.

Align on a North Star and KPIs

A project North Star is a distillation of the problem statement into an idea that the team can follow. If a team can align around that North Star and then have their behaviors and actions reinforced by KPIs that are created with the North Star in mind, it becomes easier for a diverse group of individuals to become a cohesive, impactful team.

Fail fast, often, and cheaply

There is one truth in product discovery: at times, you will fail. Failure is how we learn and grow as individuals and as teams. The trick is to not fail too big or too expensively. This core principle should be a mantra that everyone on a team knows by heart. It makes people more open to experimenting, creates room to take risks, and gives space to all ideas—the bad ones that help you learn and the good ones that help you win.

Build to test

Product discovery differs from more traditional idea generation because it pushes teams toward tangible, product-based solutions. Therefore, the value of product discovery is in the relentless pursuit of product impact, something that can’t be truly tested through words on a page, and instead needs to be prototyped to be understood. Building to test an idea gives the team the chance to see how users really feel about it.

Focus on progress

With a core problem, a North Star and KPIs, the right people, a fail-fast mentality, and push toward prototyping, your product discovery efforts will be built for product impact. Measuring success before a product is successfully built and launched is a huge challenge for many organizations, and that’s why product discovery teams have to focus on progress and expand their definition of what that means. Invalidating bad ideas is progress. Uncovering new user insights is progress. An early prototype is progress. Focusing on any aspect of the process that moves the project forward and closer to discovering, unlocking, and ultimately building a better product should be what drives the team every day.

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